Well first, I have to say that I did play Ground Zeroes, the weird short prologue game to Metal Gear Solid V that released a year before the full release.
And I thought it was mostly awesome.
So you’d think then, that considering Metal Gear Solid was my favorite gaming franchise for almost a decade, I would have leapt at the chance to finally close the loop and play its “last” installment.
Alex, I noticed that you keep putting words like last and final in quotation marks.
This is part of the problem.
Hideo Kojima is undeniably a brilliant creator, and big believer in auteur theory. He pushed his team at Konami to do some incredible things over his 30 year career in game design, and I have no doubt that Death Stranding will be a weird and interesting thing whenever it finally comes out.
But he also had this legendary habit for repeatedly declaring each installment of Metal Gear Solid to be the last one ever. He’d say he was tired, and that he was either going to try and wrap up the story or hand the series off to a younger creator.
To be fair to him, he did bring in some fresh perspectives on each successive game. But he kept doing this.
First, Snake Eater was the last installment, and MGS would end as a trilogy by explaining its beginnings. I thought this was a cool idea, because it showed the weird poetic repetition that’s always been at the heart of the series and better explored its central themes than probably any other entry.
Next, MGS 4 :Guns of the Patriots was the final installment. This game doubled down on the weirdness from MGS 2, and over-explained the crap out of everything that had happened so far…culminating in a feature length 90 minute cutscene at the end designed to explain absolutely every loose end the series had ever left hanging.
When I got to the end of MGS 4, it was very satisfying. I was happy that the story was finally over, and that Kojima could go on to do whatever other weird business he had in his head. And then maybe we’d even get a new reboot or original installment in the main franchise from another team, a la the excellent Metal Gear Rising.
Instead…MGS V was announced. In a really strange way. First it was announced as an unrelated game with a weird new director who was a guy with a bandaged face. But this all turned out to be a bit of theater as the game was directed by Kojima.
It was to be a two-part open world reinvention of the franchise. Yay!
But it would also be directly connected to the previous released games, and to Peace Walker, the portable installment that was also sort of a Monster Hunter game.
Here we go again.
The other big change was that long-time English language Snake actor David Hayter was replaced with Keifer Sutherland. A lot of people were upset about this change…but I thought it was really cool. Kojima has always been completely obsessed with Hollywood and the film business, to the point where he has one of the romanticized notions of it I’ve ever seen from a game developer.
Getting Sutherland was clearly a big cost, and he totally has the right sort of voice and certainly the acting chops to pull it off. That his first game would be a massive open world thing was just wild and cool and interesting, to me.
I bought Ground Zeroes on launch and finished it 45 minutes later. The ending was unnecessarily disgusting in ways that I don’t even want to get into (See also: Quiet Breathes with her Skin) but the game parts were still enjoyable.
Then I spent a little time messing around with its bonus challenges. And then…I kinda just fell off the hype train.
The technology behind MGS V is undoubtedly impressive. I’m not at all surprised that Konami continues to use the Fox Engine for its soccer games and for its weird Metal Gear survival game. Its collection of rendering techniques is right at the top of the heap, and the open world gameplay in Ground Zeroes was fluid and fun in a way that none of the other Metal Gear games even approach.
But I realized I don’t have any connection to this story any more, because for me…it was already over.
I could never play Peace Walker either, which some folks considered to be the “First” MGS V…because I didn’t need any more of that story.
Everything after Guns of the Patriots feels like exploitation of a franchise for the sole sake of more business rather than the continued storytelling desire of a brilliant game development team.
So I never played it, in spite of owning it on PC and Xbox thanks to sales and membership perks.
I mentioned Metal Gear Survive above. It’s deeply ironic that, once again, a Kojima “Last Game” didn’t get to be the last game, and the blatant business that drives the video game industry was once again exposed.
To be clear I don’t always have a huge problem with the relentless business that drives the gaming industry, in theory. I totally get that big budget products need to make money, and that not everything is going to be made solely for the pursuit of art. But I’d prefer that companies were honest about it.
I didn’t purchase Survive, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t at least interesting. I know it’s not the sort of thing that many fans wanted out of the franchise, but I have to give Konami some credit for actually trying something new with the game if they were going to continue to exploit it.
My heart still yearns to have weird anime video game nonsense in my life.
For a while, Assassin’s Creed filled this need, until I realized that they too had quickly lost the plot and succumbed to doing more entries solely for the sake of business. Origins was great, and hopefully that series is back on track…but it has lost most of its wacky fun in favor of just being the Witcher, which is a totally fine thing to be.
Dynasty Warriors still gives me some of that charm with its campy overwrought story and acting, and maybe Death Stranding will finally come out some day and be great.
But really, I should probably just finally dive head-first into the Yakuza series, right?